Gilgal Refaim

Gilgal Refaim

Gilgal Refaim (from Hebrew - גלגל רפאים or "Gilgal Refā'īm", Arabic - رجم الهيري or "Rujm al-Hīrī") is a stone circle and ancient megalithic monument in the Golan Heights (under Israeli control), some 16 kilometres east of the eastern coast of the Sea of Galilee, in the middle of a large plateau covered with hundreds of dolmens. Nearby is an ancient settlement dating from the Early Bronze Age.

The complex comprises more than 42,000 basalt rocks, arranged in circles. In the center is a mound 5-6 metres tall, from which protrude several layers of stone walls. Some of the walls form complete circles, and others incomplete. The outermost wall has a circumference of close to half a kilometre, and a diameter of more than 150 metres. The site was probably built during the Copper Age, and is estimated to be about 5,000 years old. There are several hypotheses about the site's purpose, ranging from a calendar, to a tomb or site of worship.

Origins of the name

In Hebrew the site is called "Gilgal Refā'īm", or "Galgal Refā'īm" ("Wheel of Refaim"), because, according to the Tanakh, the ancient people of the Bashan - modern Golan, were a race of giants, called "Rephaites". The word in modern Hebrew means "ghost" or "spirit". The term "Gilgal" or "Galgal" means "wheel", and is due to the site's circular shape. ("Ghost wheel")

In Arabic the site in known as "Rujm al-Hīrī", meaning "Mound of the Wild Cat". The origins of this name are unknown.

tructure and description

Due to the site's dimensions, and its location in a wide plateau, devoid of hills of mountains, the site can be viewed in full only from an aerial perspective. SomeFact|date=October 2007 call it "Israel's Stonehenge" due to the similarities between the two sites.

From above one can see a large circle of basalt rocks, containing smaller, concentric, circles, some complete, others incomplete. The circles are connected by smaller stone walls. In the center is a mound, or "dolmen", approximately 20 metres in diameter and five metres in height. Basalt rocks are common in the Golan Heights, due to the region's volcanic past.

The central dolmen is built from relatively smaller rocks. Connecting to it are four main stone walls. The first wall, shaped like a semicircle, is 50m in diameter and 1.5m wide. That wall is connected to a second one, an almost complete circle 90m in diameter. The third wall is a full circle, 110m in diameter and 2.6m wide. The fourth and outermost wall is the largest: 150m in diameter and 3.2m wide.

History and purpose

During the time the Golan was under Syrian control the site was not considered especially important, and was only mentioned in old Syrian Army maps. The area's residents, of course, have known it for millennia, but scientific research of it only commenced during the late 1960s, after the site came under Israel control following the Six Day War. After initial research the site was mostly abandoned, and the first professional archaeological excavations of it only began in the 1980s, when it became the focus of interest for scientists and researchers, following the work of Professors Moshe Kochavi and Yoni Mizrachi.

Due to the site's age and its deteriorated state, having been weathered by the elements, its purpose remains unclear. However, one fact is accepted among all researchers - at some point in history the site served as a place of worship and tribal gatherings. In the site's center, inside the Dolman, researchers found an ancient tomb, filled with jewelry and other expensive objects. The tomb was dated to the end of the second millennium BCE. The structure itself predates the tomb, and thus the people who buried the individual there are not the site's original builders.

Main hypotheses concerning the site's purpose

*Burial site, for leaders or other important individuals. Supporting this theory was the tomb in the Dolman. However, no human remains were found, only objects pointing to its function as a tomb. Also, even if it were a tomb, that was not the site's original function, as the tomb is a 1,000 years newer than the site itself.
*Worship - According to this hypothesis, supported by a large part of the researchers, the site was used for special ceremonies during the longest and shortest days of the year. It seems, that on the year 3000 BCE, on the longest day, the first rays of the sun shone through the opening in the north-east gate, which is 20 by 29 metres. However, they did not shine in a perfect angle. It is assumed this is because the builders of those days didn't have sufficiently accurate architectural tools. The resident probably used the site to worship Tammuz and Ishtar, the gods of fertility, to thank them for the good harvest during the year. After the erection of the tomb in the center, the rays' path was blocked.

*Calendar - Some believe the site was used an as ancient calendar. Although the site could not be used to calculate an exact date, it was sufficient for the people's needs. At the times of the two equinoxes, the sun's rays would pass between two rocks, 2m in height, 5m in width, at the eastern edge of the compound. This way, they could know when the first rains would come, and determine the right time to sow or reap their crops.

*Astronomical observations - Perhaps the site was used for astronomical observations of the constellations, probably for religious calculations. Researchers found the site was built with dimensions and scales common for other period structures, and partly based on the stars' positions. However, they could not explain a large part of the structure, including the smaller walls connecting the circles.

*A placemark - Perhaps the mark is intended to mark the place. Modern placemarks are abundant, and required for many purposes, such as land and nation borders. Similar purposes in antiquity would have required marking places also.

After the civilization who built the site grew and evolved, it seems to have lost its importance, and had little use beside a military observation post, or a pen for livestock. Due to the antiquity of the site and similarities to other sites, some outlandish explanations have also been suggested.

Gilgal Refa'im today

The site is currently inside an IDF training ground, but it can be visited freely in the weekend, when there is no risk of military activity in the area.Fact|date=February 2008

As a result of New Age movements, advocating a return to nature, and the "natural religions", every year a group of "New Agers" gathers at the site on the summer solstice, and on the equinox, to view the first rays of the sun shine though the rocks.

A new archaeological field project on the site was initiated in 2007 by Yosef Garfinkel and Michael Fraikhman from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

ee also



* [ Rogem Hiri - Ancient- Mysterious Construction] - Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs page about the site.
* [ In the wildcat's pile of stones] - An article about the site in Ha'aretz.

External links

* [ Research on the monument]
*List of map sources for coord|32.908388|35.800581
* [ GoogleEarth placemark of Rujem el-Hiri Monument]

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